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Saturday, 30 January 2010

VET E-portfolios Showcase presentations

Logo: VET E-portfolios Showcase 09Whilst re-visiting the VET E-portfolios Showcase presen-tations I was most impressed by how VET and adult learning rings true with my vision of eFolio as a Lifelong and Lifewide tool.

Despite the variable sound quality of the Elluminate presentations I would strongly recommend listening to the presentations. In the first presentation keynote speaker, Ruth Wallace (Charles Darwin University), presents her research into the use of e-portfolios to support learner identity and re-engagement. She repeatedly used one of my pet phrases, concerning the ability of the e-Portfolio to represent 'This is ME'.

Perhaps the main message is about how the e-Portfolio can help to establish a learner's on-line identity and even how the learner chooses to organise the e-Portfolio and their learning. - Well worth listening through.

Jerry Leeson spoke fluently but raised many questions which remained unanswered. All thanks must go to Allison Miller for organising the conference

Friday, 29 January 2010

Parental Engagement

Video still: Becta film on Parental EngagementFor schools that have a good VLE with embedded assessment tools and a well designed MIS output for parents 'on-line reporting' or even better 'real-time reporting' the VLE is a marvellous facility for parents. This Becta video shows something of the potential of both Home Access and on-line reporting. I recognise that this is presently a young technology and has the potential to develop much further over the next few years. Where such a system exists an e-Portfolio can then become the learner-owned and 'transition-proof' part of an information system that lets parents and mentors see the learner's progress in detail without necessarily having to access the VLE.

However, not many schools have the glossy features and VLE access for all users in the UK as of yet. For some schools, the vision of an effective VLE and Reporting System and Home Access maybe a future vision. - But what of the present? And what of schools outside of England? Or for those readers in Europe and beyond?

The truth of the matter is that all students will, in the near future, need their own personally owned e-Portfolios. I would thus argue that whatever the VLE situation, whether schools can afford a VLE or not, whether they can manage sophisticated on-line reporting in real time, the e-Portfolio is able to provide that sense of an on-line presence which is both e-secure and personal.

Friday, 22 January 2010

The end of the BB e-Portfolio?

Graphic: from Mr Woo's blogA recent post from Mr Woo identified one of the weaknesses of how many young learners see the e-Portfolio. But perhaps, as other Blackboard users have commented about their difficulties in using BB in a liberated teaching & learning environment, I should not be surprised.

I immediately thought of several previous posts I had written on the subject of the storage of artefacts. (see 'Ethics or common sense?' and 'Moving House?') I would not wish to say outright, "I told you so!" but I fear that in far too many cases the designers of so-called e-Portfolio systems are not thinking through the implications of their work, nor are course designers spelling out the practicalities of their strategies.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Second Generation ePortfolios?

Logo: 2G eP?For some time now I have been getting increasingly frustrated by the large number of mainly HE institutions who are continuing to promulgate e-Portfolio theory and practice which is increasingly looking some ten years out of date. I have therefore coined the hardly original acronym of 2G eP, pleading for a second generation approach to e-Portfolios, starting afresh from first principles rather than basing ideas on outmoded thinking.

Despite all the intelligence, wisdom and experience of our noble institutions it would appear that educationists are still saying, 'Here is a tool, what can we do with it?' rather than teachers saying to the developers, 'This is what we want to do, get on and give us what we want.' Quite frankly, eFolio can provide all the facilities that an e-Portfolio should deliver but, for now, let's just explore what we do really require.

Part 2

Perhaps the most immediate requirement is for some clarity. There is presently far too much confusion about the separate functions of a VLE and an e-Portfolio. Course management, and information about assessment criteria are surely the responsibility of the institution. Where helpful to the student one might accept that a copy of assessment criteria could be held within the e-Portfolio but with a good VLE that is hardly necessary. Otherwise, the e-Portfolio should be seen as learner-owned, separate to the VLE and the implications of this need to be fully explored.

The argument has been made that the e-Portfolio is inevitably institutionally based as it is designed to meet the needs of a particular course and even a function within that course. This again is 'tool thinking' rather than 'user-thinking' or 'meeting the variety of needs of each individual'. I raise these issues in my document, first published some two years ago: 'Who's hijacking our e-Portfolios?' To sum up a seven-page article in one sentence: e-Portfolio thinking should not be defined by conventional capabilities but by modern teaching and learning theory. In this regard, a better understanding of collaboration, of peer review and the general benefits of web2.0 will begin to influence the way staff manage formative assessments and the general monitoring of student progress.

Another challenge to take-up across all academic stages is that of the FE institutions. If HE can be seen as having a silo-mentality when it comes to e-Portfolios then FE must be considered as doubly disruptive. My paper, 'A Bridge too Far?' considers the whole situation in 6th-forms and FE colleges. It has been argued that FE has a higher percentage of older teachers and lecturers – this may be marginally true but is still no excuse for the serious lack of CPD supported in FE.

The beauty of eFolio is that different views can be presented concurrently to different audiences - and thus obviating the necessity to model one's e-Portfolio according to the needs of a particular course.

The issues of transition or portability appear to be incapable of meeting any satisfactory conclusion and thus the student is tempted to give up and accept that the e-Portfolio is owned by an institution. This inevitably means that as the learner moves on to another institution yet another different e-Portfolio tool may be required with repeated uploading of artefacts. The owner is therefore tempted not to invest any additional time or effort beyond the minimum required. Perhaps one of my main arguments about the ownership of eFolio is the very fact that through the provision of templates and the facility to change 'skins' and fonts etc not only the younger learner but all learners can create an environment that expresses 'This is ME' – that the learner is proud of and wishes to retain.

If HE has troubles concerning vision, if FE has troubles relating to staff training then Mainstream Education suffers from both of these and more. As much as teachers may expect autonomy within the classroom there is still a need for central advice and direction. For the last four years BECTA has been miserably silent on the issue of e-Portfolios and has utterly failed to provide the leadership and inspiration required for a national initiative. At the same time there is a growing demand from the 'Is it free?' brigade who seem to be unaware of the failure of basic DIY e-Portfolios to meet the strict requirements of e-safe management that schools are required to maintain. It is therefore time for some serious 2G thinking.

I can do no better than to refer back to my original criteria, my 'Ten Prime Directives'. But perhaps I can address these in a different order.

'Cosmeticisation' – an ugly word but essential. Users of any age, from the youngest to the oldest, from the most able to the least able all should be able to modify the templates, style, fonts and images which make up their own chosen self-representation. Note that there is a difference between this and 'personalisation' which, for me, suggests the functionality of the software to recognise one's personal learning styles and preferred software, including such t hings as diagnostic and predictive tools.

Lifelong Learning: can only really be an option if the one e-Portfolio can use the above options to 'transmogrify' or change according to one's maturity, culture, social perspective, course of study or even one's favourite football team or current pop-group. It should be capable of changing the organisation and naming of pages and the addition, editing or removal of artefacts.

'Lifewide' has two distinct meanings. It can refer to the range of users, ie the one tool should be capable of being used by a number of different abilities within one class or group. However, it more significantly refers to the fact that any one person has a number of different personas, any one of which the learner may wish to present to a specific audience. For example, I may wish to represent myself to one group as a competent technician, to another as an HR manager and yet to a third as an environmentalist wishing to do work for a charitable organisation.

Portability is an essential function if the e-Portfolio is to have any credibility as a lifelong tool. However, most e-Portfolio solutions are institutionally based and repeatedly I have heard tales of frustration that the work a student has done in college on their e-Portfolio cannot be taken with them to their next institution or place of employment. This has often led to older students doing as little as necessary or responding with exclamations such as 'Why should I bother?' However, portability is an essential feature of 'transition' and, from my own experience, can include many movements from one school to another and on to yet another.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Do you own a Rolls Royce?

Clip Art: a flash sports carIt's no good having a Rolls Royce, the latest high-performance Jaguar or a Lamborghini parked outside your house if there is no one to exploit its real potential or for its passengers to gain a wonderful enjoyment of the experience.

So, too, with all the recent innovations that we are presently experiencing in schools. For some schools the Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) is such a 'white elephant' where, despite the 'oos' and 'ahs' of the visitors the actual passengers (the pupils) do not rate the experience and the driver (the teacher) has hardly gained a licence to drive the IWB! In fact, some schools are disposing of their IWBs, generally due to the lack of confidence of the driver to actually get in and try the 'brute' out. Rather than being so frustrated, I would suggest that more teachers should actually get into the driving seat of their IWB, VLE or e-Portfolio and actually begin to enjoy the experience.

I'm presently writing this post at lunchtime at the ORT International VLE Seminar week - which also happens to be an opportunity for this international audience to visit BETT. I was priveledged to present a keynote presentation on 'VLEs - Evolution or Revolution?'. The reason for mentioning this is that I have been very impressed by the clarity of thought concerning VLEs in schools. If a country like Argentina can produce really creative resources by all of its teachers then perhaps teachers in the UK had better look out. Their attitude to sharing work through Creative Commons is far more productive than the protectionist IP lobby that some feel obliged to follow.

But I really must get back to the theme of e-Portfolios and ask that we start to share good practice and, like the Argentinians, begin to develop a more creative and exciting learning environment for all our students, staff and institutions included!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

41 Benefits of an e-Portfolio?

The recent post by Karen Barnstable is an excellent collection of benefits that is hard to improve upon. However, all readers from around the world should read her post and preferably comment back to me or Karen or both!

She clearly identifies three separate areas of benefit: the Student, the teacher and the institution. However, whilst writing this, I realised that she missed out another area possibly the most important, particularly for younger learners, that of the parent.

Friday, 8 January 2010

ePortfolio Commons

Graphic:  logo of 'ePortfolio Commons'I hesitate to appear critical of an institution or individuals that are making an attempt to promote e-Portfolios. I hope that the authors of 'ePortfolio Commons' will read this post in the constructive manner intended. What first caught my eye was the challenging statement:

"Are you ready for your final semester in the college? Have you started preparation and application for a job and/or further study? How can you enhance your chance of success? Register and join our ePortfolio hands-on workshop to start creating your own ePortfolio to strategically showcase your capabilities and achievements! "

As much as I applaud the efforts of any to get students to realise the value of an e-Portfolio, I feel that the above is a very narrow and 'last century' view of the function or purpose of an e-Portfolio, possibly coloured by the references used. So, perhaps I may be allowed to say "Great! BUT!"

  1. The e-Portfolio should not be seen as a last minute 'rush job' but as something built up over many years, certainly starting at the begining of the college course if not before.
  2. Job-hunting is possibly one of the least effective purposes for using an e-Portfolio, unless potential employers are really ICT savvy and are willing to look at and know how to navigate an e-Portfolio.
  3. One of the greatest functions of an e-Portfolio is as a secure and private space for formative feedback from peers and mentors.
  4. Yet another valuable function of the e-Portfolio is that of planning and drafting ideas which can be worked upon collaboratively.
  5. Above all, students should be made well aware of the image that they are communicating to others and that the patois of the younger generation or a careless selection of photographs might not be received well by potential employers or university professors.
  6. Care should be given to thinking out where the e-Portfolio is to be hosted, by an academic institution or 'in the Cloud'. Both solutions have their problems - which is why I have developed eFolio for UK and European students.

So yes, my feeling is 'get on with constructing your e-Portfolio as a matter of urgency'. But don't think that it is just a tool for showcasing or PDP.

Perhaps I should add that the list of categories by nations is very simple. It might have been that in the UK 10 years ago HE was using e-Portfolios mainly for showcasing and PDP but that is no longer the case. Secondly, e-Portfolios are becoming more popular in mainstream education, even in primary schools. I can give you several examples of different approaches to using eFolio.

I need my teachers to learn

I was sent this link and immediately thought how appropriate for e-Portfolio thinking. But it's not only a case of learning the technical competencies. More importantly, teachers must learn or understand how new teaching and learning strategies can enhance so many aspects of education, both for themselves, their line-managers and, of course, our students.

From job satisfaction, pride of ownership, certainty through collaboration, deeper understanding and effective communication all aspects of learning can become a richer and more rewarding experience.

In terms of eFolio it is time that tutors and administrators realised that e-Portfolio thinking has rapidly moved on in the last 5-10 years. No longer is the e-Portfolio just an institutional assessment tool or an aid to CPD. If learning is to be owned by the student, then the e-Portfolio is just the place to display and justify one's efforts to a variety of audiences. eFolio is designed for just this task.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

When is an e-Portfolio not an e-Portfolio?

Nils Petersen on the AAEEBL forum recently pointed up this interesting example of what some were calling an 'e-Portfolio' where others were perhaps more correctly calling it her 'electronic reputation' or as Serge Ravet would say, 'her digital identity'.

The work of Margo Tamez as illustrated by the Touchgraph that she created hit the courts when litigation ensued as to the ownership rights of an e-Portfolio created as part of her academic work. This is a classic example of 'Cloud Computing' and raises the whole issue of 'who owns what'?

Traditionally, any work created in the workplace belonged to the owners of the company and similarly, any work created using the tools of the workplace, either on-site or off-site still belonged to the company. But that is not the point of this post.

Firstly, as I have stated before, the e-Portfolio should not be considered as a 'pantechnicon' of all that a student has ever produced. Rather, the e-Portfolio should be seen as that selection of appropriate artefacts, either work in progress or completed activities that the learner feels are the best exemplars of learning processes.

Secondly, the e-Portfolio should be that organised and well presented selection of artefacts supported by intelligent comment for a particlar audience. I cannot begin to think that Margo has a particular audience in mind for this tumble of evidences.

Thirdly, the technical competence required for this form of entertainment can only serve as a barrier to learning if others are tempted to emulate this form of bravado. As others have noted on the AAEEBL forum, the creation of an e-Portfolio should not be a measure of technical competence. Rather, an e-Portfolio (such as eFolio) should be a simple to use tool that enables all the positive things of e-Portfolio practice to happen naturally as part of reflection and showcasing.

e-Portfolio Tools

Picture: a quiet reflective woodland scene

Thanks to Ali, a project developer from New South Wales, a very interesting blog on e-Portfolios including this YouTube presentation by Dawn Corley. A thoughtful reminder of many of the features that are a consistent part of eFolio.

Click here for the YouTube presentation.

Yes, a good set of tools and processes, we now need to create the strategies for learning to take place, using our e-Portfolios in such a way that reflection and engagement will take off!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

A New Year - but Old Mantras?

Painting by Terry Kitson of 'Surrey Artists'
The ‘New Year’ is a time when we invariably look forward to new initiatives, a fresh start or a promise to follow New Year’s Resolutions. However, recent proclamations appear to be promising ‘more of the same’ – is this really all we can expect?  Are we really being encouraged to 'throw out the baby with the bathwater' all because of a few 'bad apples'?

Our friendly Welsh essayist, Graham Attwell, is in fighting spirit for his socio-political vision when he states:

“If Open Education is to mean anything, it has to address the question of social divisions including class, gender and race. I am unconvinced this can be done from inside the existing educational institutions, although of course it will need the support of those working in those organisations. Instead I think we need to use the power of the Internet to provide opportunities for education and learning outside the present system and to embed those learning activities in wider communities than the present institutions address.” See:

Tony Bates flags up another essay on college costs in an article by Michael Bassis,

Again, another eloquent essay in which subtle misrepresentations are embedded in otherwise constructive thinking:

“Let's return to the case of online learning. This design began as an inexpensive way to deliver the standard curriculum. While it did provide increased access to many students, it was widely regarded as inferior to traditional degrees delivered by faculty in the classroom. But online learning is proving to be a classic example of a disruptive technology.”

I don’t know from which planet Michael Bassis originates or how old he is, but surely, some 30 years ago we were already exploring how Learning Platforms could support ‘anytime access’ and how this steadily evolved into some of the exciting VLE deliveries at local, national and international scales. Nothing to do with ‘inexpensive’ and certainly not ‘disruptive’.

Alongside developments in educational thinking, of recognising 10 Multiple Intelligences, of discovering the benefits of collaborative learning even with the 4 walls of a conventional classroom, of the acceptance of an increasing diversity within our classrooms and a recognition of the implications of increased family mobility it is no surprise that online learning has come of age. The relevant technologies are certainly NOT ‘disruptive’ but rather ‘supportive’ of educational thinking.

Again, sadly, Jon Mott and David Wiley in an extensive article fail to recognise the root cause of the problem in their paper:

“Alternatively labeled learning management systems (LMSs), learning content management systems (LCMSs), and virtual learning environments (VLEs), such software has generally been focused primarily on helping teachers increase the efficiency of the administrative tasks of instruction (e.g., distribute documents, make assignments, give quizzes, initiate discussion boards, assign students to working groups, etc.). This instructor-centrism comes despite the best intentions and efforts of system designers, early adopters, and instructional support staff who sought to use these systems to transform the dominant learning modality of higher education from traditional, classroom-based instruction to online and hybrid courses. In practice, the vast majority of instructors who adopted the CMS largely ignored Bloom's challenge to make an "educational contribution of the greatest magnitude," instead focusing on increasing the administrative efficiency of their jobs.”

In my opinion all of the writers have failed to appreciate the root cause: it is not a failure of the technologies but, rather, a failure of some educators to move with the times, to take on board new teaching and learning styles and to appreciate how modern technologies can dramatically assist these strategies. As a practising technologist for over 50 years, I would suggest that just jumping to yet another isolate technology as the solution to all our problems will solve nothing.

As this new year dawns, let’s stop laughing at those tutors who still use the IWB as if it were no more than an OHP, let’s stop taking inward gasps of dismay when we see students actually printing out their essays for marking, let’s stop procuring content for a CMS on a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ basis but rather, ask the Senior Leadership Teams why these things are still happening. Let’s ban the familiar setting of homework as ‘finish off your classwork notes’, let’s ban the use of pre-scripted activities that have no sense of personalisation or topicality, let’s remove all ‘pigeon-holes’ or ‘duckets’ from our staff-rooms and begin to establish liberated teaching and learning norms which equally apply to all sectors of education.

'Transformative change' is not so much about the use of contemporary technology but rather about the mindset of the instructors – or even the assessment Boards.

Instead of the powerful voice of HE maintaining the didactic traditions of pre-Victorian England, perhaps it is the time to re-vitalise all sections of academia not by introducing low-cost technologies so much as enforcing rigorous Schemes of Work which recognise improved efficiencies of teaching and learning and the support that contemporary technologies can offer.

Although all of the above refers to CMS/LMS/VLEs etc the arguments for e-Portfolios are similar:  Confusion and ignorance relating to the provenance of the e-Portfolio along with poor implemenations and even poorer teaching strategies are sufficient to encourage anyone thinking about e-Portfolios to drop the subject like a 'hot potato'.

Rather, as I have said frequently, 'Let the VLE do what it does best and allow the e-Portfolio to do what it can best do."